Walking into the large, egg-like structure of the MoMA Ps1 Performance Dome, the German electronic band Kraftwerk’s song “Man-Machine” was the perfect accompaniment to the architecture. Their music represents the kind of progressive attitude towards materials (instruments) and aesthetics (sounds) that is captured perfectly in the temporary structure. A shiny, white, geodesic dome reminiscent of fellow early techno-fetishist Buckminster Fuller, the space features a super-high-fidelity sound system, 8 screens projecting various computer art, and not much else. It is the ideal pairing of minimalism and technology with Kraftwerk’s slick electronic melodies.
Completely white on the inside and out, the dome is like a default setting, its tabula-rasa interior serving as the screen for 8 large projections approximately 15 feet off the ground, which are large enough to capture your attention and hold it. Each performance can start over, with its own tailored set of videos or images.
The dome itself is almost blank, the speakers and projectors creating the spatial experience. The depth of sound that these speakers produces creates a voluminous soundscape. The nature of the dome is that there is quite a bit of extra space at the top, so the space is left half filled with the sounds of the performance and accompanying projections. These projections form a ring, and the dome is at its best when the lights are low enough to obscure the actual structure. The ring of projections then becomes the ceiling, like a spectacular cathedral to performance, or a futuristic, cosmic Pantheon.
Instead of a single screen located behind the stage, these eight projections are arranged radially, on one surface, maintaining a spectacular sense of scale, but providing little spatial context. It is easy to get lost, disoriented. Everywhere around the circular stage is almost exactly the same, and you are left subject to only two ‘architectural’ forces: the speakers, and the videos, both of which are arranged in a equidistant, radial pattern.
The user is transposed into one of Kraftwerk’s visions, into a momentary place where technology becomes the only mediator of space and body and the building disappears. The electronic elements of performance become the spatial experience. The dome is a moving take on the immaterial, ephemeral nature of performance art, and stands as a high-water mark for museums presenting multidisciplinary work.